Our first half-marathon: it was brutal, we want more

Setting goals always seems like a good idea.  Setting a goal isn’t hard, but following through is another thing altogether.  Registering for a destination race is a great way to make a goal real.  Some people commit to things without too much thought (sometimes not enough), while others overanalyze, weighing pros and cons and often concentrating too much on the cons, thereby missing possible opportunities.  Being a charter member of the former category, while on holiday in Florida in January 2009 it occurred to me that it might be fun to try a half marathon in Disney World.  I was hoping to be retired by the next Disney World Half in January 2010, so I made the leap and registered myself – and my husband – for our first goal of 2010.

My husband, who was already retired, is the athlete in our relationship. Although his athletic prowess had been focused on the golf course and in the gym of late, he immediately took up the new challenge and started training.  I had a full slate of administrative responsibilities until July 1, 2009, so that is when my training started – from scratch.  We were both using training programs we had found on the Internet and mine didn’t seem to work very well.  My husband of course had been training for a few months by this time and could finish a credible 10K, but I just didn’t seem to be able to keep running more than 5-6K without running out of steam.  Boy, did I have a long way to go. What had I been thinking?  I was having huge doubts.

Needless to say, eventually I learned a lot about what I wish I’d known at the outset.  It all makes sense once you know it.  Some of what I learned in time to turn around training in the fall of 2009 for my first half marathon included:

  1. When you’re new to trying to run longer distances, using your (husband’s) Garmin lets you know when you’re going too fast to maintain your pace or the distance.  That was my biggest breakthrough, learning that I had to go really slow as I built up distance.
  2. Most published or posted training programs are not aimed to older runners, especially old, new long distance runners.  Following them religiously does not work well.  You need recovery time.  Running 4, 5, or even 6 times a week is a bad idea.  Look out, injuries.

What I learned during this training period that wasn’t positive:

  1. You can run through pain to complete your training and run your race, but expect to pay for it (that’s another story).

It might not have been pretty, but we were ready for our first half marathon.

Our experience at the Disney World Half Marathon was definitely memorable.  We had been to Florida many times before, visiting my aunt and cousin along with all the tourist spots.  We had visited Disney World many times in the past, both with our kids and later on our own, although never before at one of the resorts in the Park.  What a treat.  We had, in fact, been to Florida in different seasons over the years, but never in a season that was colder than home in Canada!  Who could have foreseen that we would choose (OK, I would choose) to try this race in the coldest January Florida had experienced in living memory.  Or that the Half Marathon day would be the coldest day of the coldest January.  Or that it would be sleeting, with a heavy wind, for the two dark pre-dawn hours we all waited in a holding area for our corral to start. Others reported snow and freezing rain, but our experience was with sleet – coming at us sideways.

My guess is that normally people waiting for their corrals to be called to the starting line would be out in the large open area, watching live entertainment and soaking up the excitement of the crowd.  Instead, 17,000 people were just trying to keep warm.  It was reminiscent of the March of the Penguins; people sought out any shelter they could find – small souvenir tents if you were lucky – and then worked at getting as close to the center of a group of people as possible, using the group for warmth and shelter from the wind.  I am quite sure that by the time we started I was colder than I had ever been before. Honestly.  At any rate, once we started, we warmed up a bit.  Volunteers along the route warned us to stay off the white reflective lines on the road since they were slippery from black ice!  Good advice.  The sleet morphed into a light but steady cold rain.

After an eternity of running, obsessing about how fast – or slow – we were going, zigzagging around people who were walking, and avoiding slippery sections and puddles, we reached Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. That was really fabulous.  It was still pre-dawn, and street lights and strings of lights in trees twinkled in the drizzly darkness, giving the street leading up to Cinderella’s Castle a special kind of magic.

I will never forget passing the Mile 10 marker.  My left foot was throbbing, both knees were bothering me, my hip was sore, and my feet were soaked and freezing, but when I saw that sign I knew I was going to make it.  I knew what 3 miles meant and I knew my body could do it.  That is what training does for you, and I was learning that for the first time in my life, one week short of my 64th birthday!

I had a huge sense of accomplishment from completing that half marathon.  I had reached my goal. I’d even got a Donald Duck medal.  I was ready to tackle something else.  … But … my husband, who didn’t seem to have any pains at all except for some cramping, was already planning for our next half marathon, with the hopes and expectation of improving on our first efforts.  I had created a monster!  And hence began our long distance running “career” in earnest, at ages 64 and 70.  We’ve had lots of fun and have learned lots about how to manage physical limitations.  Some of these physical limitations are age related and others are just plain old imperfect bodies and, dare I say, imperfect technique.  I hope to share some of my lessons learned in future posts.

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